By Alan Eder
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Coffee is a bit like a designer drug: It satisfies you at first, but it always leaves you wanting more.
I stopped paying $3 for a gallon of gas, yet I gladly pay $4 for my tub of Yuban. But I recently pondered the implications of my purchase after watching a Coldplay concert in which lead singer Chris Martin preened around onstage in support of the Make Trade Fair trend. Each day, as I freshen up my brew, I wonder if I am I in fact subsidizing social inequity.
According to www.maketradefair.com, 2 percent of the money you pay for a jar of coffee actually goes to the farmer. The exporter receives 3 percent, the shipper receives 6 percent, 25 percent goes to the retailer and a whopping 64 percent goes to the roaster.
Under this profit scheme, the big four roasters, Kraft, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, and Sara Lee, churn enormous profits, while the people who actually make the product go unnoticed, slaving in the fields.
Not surprisingly, passionate advocates of fair trade have risen in response to this injustice.
Fair trade is a growing phenomenon that guarantees farmers a minimum working wage so they can support their families, allow their children to attend school (so they don't have to work in the fields) and lift themselves out of poverty. In the case of coffee, in which an estimated 25 million people base their living growing and selling it, the social and economic consequences are huge.
Ultimately, awareness and popularity of fair trade coffee as a consumer trend is increasing.
Just last semester at the UA, Students for Fair Trade met with McDonald's on campus to encourage them to sell fair trade coffee. Even further, in the previous fall semester the same group was instrumental in influencing Dining Services to sell Seattle's Best fair trade coffee in the student unions.
But while the fair trade coffee movement has admirable intentions, unless the root of the issue is resolved - the pricing aspect - then the movement is in danger of becoming a passing fad. Morality and ethics ultimately give way to market economics; we'll overlook the hardship of others for monetary convenience. For example, for all of its detractors and controversy, Wal-Mart always has low prices, so customers continue to shop there.
People simply do not want to pay more for products when they can be cheaper. For instance, at Albertson's, 12-ounce fair trade coffees are easily more expensive than the budget brands. Tully's Compadre Blend costs $9.29, Millstone Mountain Moonlight sells for $9.99 and Aroma Coffee from Santa Fe, N.M., sells for $9.49.
These prices are expensive in comparison to Yuban and Maxwell House, which sell for almost half the price.
While fair trade coffees compete against gourmet and organic coffees, the movement could benefit from competition in the darker netherworld of coffee consumption, where the bulk of purchases are made. Sadly, there are few budget blend fair trade coffees that can compete with the Maxwell Houses of the world.
In contrast, fair trade coffee is readily available in coffee shops. Espresso Art, 944 E. University Blvd., specializes in fair trade coffees, and they are readily affordable (for the bourgeois of coffee drinkers). According to Danny Mannheim, owner of Espresso Art, he estimates he would save 20 cents per pound if he purchased non-fair trade coffee. But spread over dozens of cups, the difference in price is minimal.
In fact, the house blend fair trade cup at Espresso Art costs $1.56 after tax, while at Starbucks, 802 E. University Blvd., a regular cup of non-fair trade brew runs for $1.61. And compared to Illy coffee (which Mannheim considers the "best in the world"), fair trade blends are certainly cheaper.
Although sales of fair trade coffee are currently strong in cafes and specialty stores, for this to be more than a passing fad, it may need more than a campaign by the world's biggest rock star. Progress has already been made, but if a cheaper product is available in grocery stores, and if it is a boon to consumers, then the movement has greater chance of success.
Fair trade coffee is affordable compared to the price of gasoline, but I'm still using Folgers in my machine. After all, the best part of waking up is cheap prices. But wouldn't it be nice to pay a little more to end economic inequity?
Ponder this as you sip your next cup of joe, and consider buying fair trade coffee (and teeth whitener) for social justice.
Alan Eder is a senior majoring in Spanish and political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.